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A Rational Approach To Racing Game Track Design
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A Rational Approach To Racing Game Track Design

September 6, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 5 Next

Figure 7

Figure 8

Difficulty of a corner increases if the angle between these three points is more acute and / or if the distance between these points is reduced -- as seen in a comparison between Figure 7 and Figure 8.

A corner can have multiple clipping points within itself; however, there will always be definite entry and exit points. The player needs these definite entry and exit points as a type of "punctuation" to help memorize the circuit.

Further to this, by taking this approach, a track designer can come up with a circuit that is a combination of straights and corners.

Depending on the type of vehicle dynamics system that is being used, a combination of straights and corners can help assist in game balance by allowing equal catch-up opportunities for vehicles with different attributes.

Figure 9

Corners that have multiple clipping points are referred to as "compound corners" (Figure 9). The approach to ascertaining difficulty remains unchanged for compound corners. Distance between clipping points and the amount of correction required by the vehicle (as defined by extrapolating the angle between three points) are valid means for ascertaining difficulty.

It is important to note that different racing games will have different types of vehicle dynamics, which will ultimately dictate the way clipping points are used. This will be described in more detail during the case studies of Initial D and Maximum Tune.

Understanding clipping points and the how they subsequently impact on creating the race line is the most integral piece of the puzzle when taking a rational approach to track design. It is important to consider that a racing game is very much a twitch-puzzle game.

What this means is that the player needs to find elegant solutions to spatial problems by using the least amount of steering, braking and acceleration input. Although vehicle dynamics have been discussed, the type of dynamics system used by the game will have a significant impact of how designers should go about creating clipping points and race lines.

Metric 3: Track Width

Track width is one of the common-sense type metrics that is relatively easy to understand and implement. As a general rule of thumb, making the road wider will make corners easier as it creates a more obtuse angle for the clipping points and also provides some forgiveness in the track design (as seen earlier in Figure 3).

A commonly acknowledged rule for third person games is that the environment should be scaled up by a factor of around 33 percent, and the same applies for racing games and the scale of tracks. The reason this approach is used is to allow space for the camera to move through the environment, and also to create passing opportunities.

Figure 10

When designing the scale of a track, each lane should be 1.6 car widths wide, allowing three cars to be side by side in two lanes with a very minimal distance separating them (Figure 10). In addition to this, the road shoulder should be around 50 percent to 75 percent the width of a car (Figure 11).

This makes the player take a risk by taking this strategically powerful position -- especially around corners where the lateral force will be trying to pull the vehicle's mass against the player's will. Having a wider section of track used for a corner will allow for more margin for error. Wider corners also give experienced players more ability to apply longitudinal force as the race line can become far more smooth.

Figure 11

Metric 4: Road Camber

Road camber is the metric associated with how the road's pitch and roll angle will affect the car's ability to turn-in to a corner (over-steer) or alternatively the car's inability to turn into a corner (under-steer) (Figure 12). The terms under-steer and over-steer are related to describing vehicle dynamics, however on-camber and off-camber are terms associated with track design (Figure 13).

Figure 12

Figure 13

Daytona USA famously used a large amount of on-camber turns to allow for impossible corner entry and exit speeds, designed to empower non-drivers and reward them for little input. On the other hand, more realistic driving games such as Gran Turismo will use combinations of on-camber and off-camber corners to test the limits of the player and their chosen vehicle. This type of model ultimately requires more from the player in terms of practice and hence is not suited to an arcade environment.

Ideally, all corners in an arcade style racing game will be on-camber, as this allows for some bold and empowering cornering. Given the type of demographic attracted to these types of driving games, this is an ideal approach.

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